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Expert for Hire — or Trusted Advisor?

By Phil Verghis on October 30, 2008

From the October 2008 Verghis View newsletter. (Sign up at home page.)

Many of us in the technology world have been witness to two “once in a lifetime” events. The first was the dot com bubble, where huge growth was pursued at all costs. That was followed by a big bust when it became clear that profitability mattered after all.The second event is the most extraordinary financial crisis since the Great Depression in the US.

Despite billions of dollars and euros being spent to ease the liquidity crisis, financial institutions are still hoarding cash because they don’t trust each other’s financial stability.In addition, billions of dollars of shareholder value are being wiped out as rumors of corporations’ possible demise enter cyberspace and ricochet around, taking huge chunks out of their stock price.

For a recent example, look no further back than September 6, 2008, when several web sites mistakenly picked up a Chicago Tribune story about United Airlines filing for bankruptcy. In reality, United had filed for bankruptcy in December, 2002 and emerged from bankruptcy in early 2006. But some sites reprinted the 2002 story, thinking it was current news. UAL shares opened the day at $12.16 before plummeting as low as $3 before trading was halted.

So what does all this have to do with support? A lot, it turns out. Unless you operate purely in a break-fix model, much of what we do involves gaining our client’s trust and becoming a true partner with them for their success. Last time, I wrote about how to manage in tough times. This time it seems to be a perfect time to revisit what being a trusted advisor is all about.

I recently re-read Clients for Life: Evolving from an Expert-for-Hire to an Extraordinary Adviser by Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel. In it, they interview CEOs and advisors to see what distinguishes a client advisor – an irreplaceable resource – from a tradable commodity like an expert.

  • Experts are specialists; advisors become deep generalists with broad perspective.
  • Experts are for hire; advisors have selfless independence.
  • Experts have professional credibility; advisors have deep personal trust.
  • Experts analyze; advisors synthesize.
  • Experts supply expertise; advisors are educators who provide insight and wisdom.

As we explore the shift from a tiered model of support to a Savvy Support model, one of the key attributes will be a transition from frontline staff being break-fix experts to valued advisors. Under Savvy Support, routine/ simple/ known issues are taken care of either by eliminating the problem in the first place or solving the issues via self service. This approach frees the support staff to handle more difficult, unknown problems. The more they focus on resolving these, the more likely they are to become client advisors.

There you have it: how to move from being “hired hands” to “client advisors.” The faster you make the change, the more your clients will trust you and call on you — in good times and bad.

What to do in Tough Times

By Phil Verghis on October 17, 2008

From the August 2008 Verghis View newsletter 

With many economies around the world sputtering, most of you are helping prop up balance sheets by slashing discretionary spending, renegotiating contracts and putting off purchases.In this kind of atmosphere, it is tempting just to make the necessary cuts and hope that you will be spared further scrutiny. Making cuts is always painful. I was part of one of the biggest IPOs in US history (at the time) followed by the dot-com crash and our eventual return to profitability with great margins. Just about anybody can manage during good times. It’s during tough times when the great stand out from the merely competent. Here are a few non-traditional ways you can stand out.

  1. Love your clients and partners! Yup, with few exceptions, most of your clients and partners are under the same pressures you are. Everywhere they look, they, too, are being hit by reduced services and increased fees – from checking in baggage on planes, to rising food and oil costs, to cost-cutting pressures at work.This is a perfect time to pick up the phone and call or even visit – not just email – your clients and partners and see what you can do for them. Find out how they are being impacted during the downturn. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them succeed in their business. Revisit procedures and policies, offer training. Wouldn’t you like it if someone came to you and offered that kind of help? How many have?
     
  2. One of the most overlooked ways to save money is to take a close look at your recurring costs and standing purchase orders. One of my clients just saved over $250,000 a year in maintenance fees. How? They had inherited a contract from another department, but until they made the time to look at it, they didn’t realize they were paying for equipment and software that hadn’t been on the books for two years. Think about it – where else can you get that kind of savings without significant pain?
     
  3. Be ready for good times. The larger your organization, the more likely ‘use it or lose it’ money will become available at the end of your fiscal year. These funds must be used quickly and will be awarded to those who are prepared. Have you created a prioritized list of what you want and need? Reach out to your suppliers and partners. Give them a heads-up so they’re ready to help when resources free up. Savvy clients and prospects have already reached out to me this way, and they will get a priority in scheduling.
     
  4. One final note: Think big, think bold. If you have been running a support center for many years, you’re probably already running a pretty tight ship. Have you reached a wall in terms of efficiency and productivity gains? Well, this is the perfect time to start planning and implementing dramatic changes in the way you do support. Frankly, most support centers are little more than optimized break-fix centers. What an incredible waste of time for our customers – and a morale-killer for our staffs. Why isn’t most of our time spent working with customers to make them more successful in their business? That’s how to deliver real value.During tough times like these, senior management often looks for dramatic change. Some start with changes to the corporate culture, and take time to get used to. For example, consider getting rid of Level 1/2/3 support models and embracing Savvy Support. This conversion takes time, but pays off in a big way.

There you have it. Quick tips to help you stand out during tough times.

2008 Voice of the Customer retreat – interesting conversations

By Phil Verghis on October 8, 2008

Yesterday’s second annual Voice of the Customer retreat in Bolton was a nice affair, at the classy International country club in Bolton, just outside Boston. One of the most memorable quotes was from Marlene Bessette, VP for Strategy and Customer Loyalty at Xerox. “Culture eats strategy for lunch every time.” So true.

During the open mike session, I asked if anyone had success creating a common company-wide vocabulary regarding Voice of the Customer – even something as basic as who the most ‘important’ customer was. The answer was ‘no’ from all but the smallest (or single product) companies. Shows how long a way we have to go before we truly start embedding the Voice of the Customer into everything we do.

Trip to China

By Phil Verghis on October 2, 2008

Just got back from two weeks in China. Saw Beijing (Climbed the Great Wall (Badaling section), Forbidden City, Tianamen Square and more), Xi’an (Terracotta statues and more), Yangtze River (Three Gorges dam) and Shanghai (Bund, Pudong and more).

Lots of amazing things to see. China has raised more people from grinding poverty to ‘middle class’ faster than anyone else has ever , but still has a way to go. India has a lot to learn from China’s investment in infrastructure, though China started its economic reforms about 20 years ahead of India.

A few pictures:

Wall outside the Heavenly Center Stone in Beijing
Terracotta statues, Xi’an
Mag-lev train from Shanghai to airport
Top speed – 431 mph


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